The Johnson Treatment: Cold War Food Aid and the Politics of Gratitude
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In 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared, "India is a good and deserving friend. Let it never be said that bread should be so dear, and flesh and blood so cheap that we turned in indifference from her bitter need." The sweeping presidential rhetoric did not match the record. While Johnson promised India vital U.S. food aid to combat a worsening famine, he also bristled at Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's public criticism of the U.S. military escalation in Vietnam. In this context, he ordered a review of American economic and agricultural assistance to India and pushed ahead with the implementation of the "short tether" policy -- placing authorization of U.S. food aid shipments to India on a month-to-month basis, and making future deliveries contingent on the Government of India's adoption of market mechanisms and modern technical inputs including pesticides, fertilizers, and mechanized irrigation to increase the nation's food production -- a strategy based on the U.S. agribusiness model. While surplus U.S. grains, made available to India and other nations through the "Food for Peace" program, provided relief to low-income, urban populations, this master's thesis, drawing extensively on documents from the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, emphasizes Washington's use of food aid as a Cold War weapon. For a decade and a half, prior to Johnson's "short tether" policy, U.S. policymakers hoped that generous U.S. economic aid would spur a grateful, post-colonial Indian government to modify its foreign policy of Cold War nonalignment, support Washington's global anti-communist agenda, and forge better terms with its regional rival and U.S. military ally, Pakistan. American officials also reasoned that U.S. generosity would encourage the developing nation to adopt market-oriented economic policies. Borrowing from the colonial theorist Frantz Fanon and other scholars, this study illuminates how these expectations reflected common cultural assumptions that aid recipients owed their benefactors "gratitude." I argue that the metaphors of "gifting" and "gratitude," language commonly used by U.S. officials and members of Congress, actually disguised the exercise of hegemonic power as moral beneficence. President Johnson, who had initially perceived India's recently-installed first, female leader as girlish and deferential to U.S. leadership, implemented the short tether initiative not simply to spur Indian agricultural reforms -- but to punish the nation and its new prime minister for challenging U.S. power and violating his own code of personal and political conduct.
Table of Contents
Abstract -- Acknowledgments -- Lyndon Johnson Confronts the Hungry World -- American Assistance and Indian 'Ingratitude' -- Conclusion -- Work Cited -- Primary Sources -- Secondary Sources